With “The Souled Store” having reached great heights as a business and a millennial sensation with pop culture merchandise; we sat down with Co-founder and Director Harsh Lal to talk about the success and other aspects of the business. IP licensing to sell authorized merchandise in return for royalties is not exactly a terrain many start-ups have succeeded in, in the past.
Although we see new licensing enterprises commonly today, a chat with Harsh reveals aspects of the industry when it was new and unexplored. He was candid about “The Souled Store” journey and his personal journey with the fandom driven business.
The Souled Store Journey
Having rendered over 150 licenses from top brands - Marvel, DC, sports and much more, Harsh recalls the first F.R.I.E.N.D.S license that gained a phenomenal response with the authentic merchandise release coinciding with reruns of the show. The “Souled Store” founders saw the potential for the same and a lack of genuine products in the Indian market.
“There was no one who was fulfilling the demand of a great product with good design and quality at a price that is affordable. We’ve had a tremendous journey. While there were lots of ups and downs initially, character merchandise and pop culture merchandise as a business model was something we were very confident of,” he said.
Since the 2014 F.R.I.E.N.D.S license they have expanded to a variety of sectors - Characters, Artists and Sports and went on to beat the minimum guarantee requirements for over 150 national and international licenses. Harsh speaks about the essence of a brand that resonates with consumers and weaves in their faith.
“Every single day, you will see an ad of a new company selling licensed (or unlicensed) merchandise. The barrier to entry is very low so a lot of new brands are entering the market. Brands need to define their philosophy and vision so that they are able to deliver to their clients in the best manner. Another massive change has come about has been post our work with IPL teams that has opened up a new market for us altogether. Our association with Mumbai Indians, Chennai Super Kings and others has helped acquire a lot of new customers.”, he said.
Evolving Employees and Customers
The Souled Store working environment is one with true passionists that resonate with everything in pop culture, and thus convey it in the best ways. He describes the attention to detail , including customised replies from the customer relation team based on the fandom. With licensors working in tandem with them their authenticity is conveyed even better.
“We do not take a license for just the brand value, it has to make some commercial sense for us as well. And if we are confident that we can meet the minimum guarantee and do justice to the IP, only then do we go ahead with it. We are proud of the fact that we have always met the Minimum guarantee on all the 150 licenses till date. This happens because we are all fans of pop culture.”, he said.
He also recognizes the evolving customer base in India. He describes the old trends of either relying on a relative abroad for an original piece of merchandise or perhaps getting one from the fake market. The new age consumer is willing to spend for quality and authenticity, and thus licensing has an opportunity to flourish.
“The Indian consumer base is definitely shifting from a discount or sales driven to a value driven proposition. The first thing is to understand if there is a demand for a particular IP and if we can do justice to the same. Fan requests are kept in mind. If the requests are consistent for 2-3 months, then we find out who is the licensor of that particular IP and initiate conversations.”, he said.
A Homegrown Indian Brand
When asked about the take of the licensing industry on “Atmanirbhar India”, Harsh emphasized on the upward trend in the licensing domain that still doesn’t have a set industry mechanism to support it.
Being relatively uncharted waters, it is only recently that more brands have started getting into ventures for licensed merchandise. He talks about the system gaps and the backlashes faced with such a venture.
The biggest gap is not the lack of IPs, but the fact that we have not developed it yet. Counterfeits are also a big problem that we have faced. The biggest issue was that you either had a very expensive original product available or a counterfeit. One thing that has helped us beat the counterfeit market is our price point. The quality we offer and the price point we offer it at, for many people who were willing to get a counterfeit don’t mind spending a few extra rupees to get our products that are significantly better as far as the quality and design are concerned.”, he said.
He concluded by describing licensing enterprises as an exciting space to work in. For those with an inkling to get into the business, the right time is now! Harsh advises to have realistic expectations, take on brands that you can genuinely support, and expand slowly as per your customer base.